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Redevelopment Committee plans take shape

Ask Russellville residents Mitch McKinney and Julie Herring McKinney when they decided to move to Alabama after calling Atlanta home for more than 20 years, and they will admit they can’t give a straight answer. Neither can pinpoint when they officially started considering it, but it has been a “long, winding and worthwhile road.”

When their family move was just an idea, Julie started thinking about growing up in north Alabama – and in Russellville in particular. Along the way, she took notice of a community effort to revitalize downtown Russellville.

“Although it was casual, we met with Mayor David Grissom and were impressed by the good, business-minded groundwork being laid, the cities he had visited to research thriving downtowns and the goals of the Downtown Redevelopment Committee,” said Julie.

“It didn’t take long for us to be hooked on the idea of small-town life and long-held dreams of being entrepreneurs,” added Mitch.

Inspired by the vision, they decided to make a leap and purchase a brick-and-mortar building in downtown Russellville while still living in Atlanta. The building was originally the Dearing & Orman Mercantile, but locals probably also remember it as Tot ’n Teen from years ago.

Plans for the building, delayed by COVID-19, are on the drawing board and in the works. For now, Mitch is settling into his law office there – and the family has kept dreaming.

A year after moving to town, the McKinneys started taking the helm of the Downtown Redevelopment Committee with a new goal in mind for 2022: gaining a Main Street of Alabama designation.

Main Street Alabama is a program focused on bringing jobs and people back to Alabama’s historic communities. According to the organization’s website, mainstreetalabama.org, the heart of the organization’s efforts is in economic development – to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods across the state.

“Visions of ‘home’ and feelings about the town a person grows up in can vary over time,” said Julie. “Mine sure did, and now they all come back in a flood of memories and conversation.”

Julie said stories from older folks recall a lively downtown, bustling with people on the weekends. They dovetail with specific memories from her own youth, like eating French fries with her Grandfather DeFoor downstairs in Bradford Drug Store and shopping with her mom at The Wagon Wheel. She said she also remembers riding the strip on the weekends in high school while nothing was open.

Now, the McKinneys are on a mission to bring back some of that energy and momentum to downtown Russellville. “We want to walk around town and see people we know, run into our friends at new businesses and connect our community to each other,” Julie said. “This is a wonderful place to live.”

With that passion, a plan is taking shape. The McKinneys said the dream for downtown Russellville will need support from all ages. The committee’s goal is to facilitate a striking transformation in the next few years.

“It will take a partnership between new and long-time residents alike,” said Mitch. “We can work together to embrace change while preserving our buildings and history.”

The Downtown Redevelopment Committee will meet at the Roxy Theatre Sept. 13, at 6:30 p.m. A representative from Main Street Alabama will speak about towns that have pursued similar ideas and answer audience questions.

For more information, email downtownrussellville@gmail.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.

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